This gallery contains 5 photos.

Marian icon types can sometimes be a little confusing because there are so many of them, in addition to variations on a standard type. Today we will look at an image very popular in the 19th century.  It is called Умягчение … Continue reading


Today we will take a look at the icon type of the Terrible Judgment.  Some versions are simple, others, like this one, more complex.  This example bears the title inscription OBRAZ STRASHNAGO SUDA BOZHIYA — “Image of the Terrible Judgment of God.”

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

In the discussion today we will look at elements both from that icon and from another similarly complex but slightly different example.  We will begin with the icon shown below, which bears the longer title inscription VTOROE PRISHESTVIE GOSPODA NASHEGO IISUSA KHRISTA SUDITI ZHIVUIM I MERTVUIM — “The Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to Judge the Living and the Dead.”





The iconography of the “Terrible Judgment” comes from both the New and Old Testaments, primarily from the Apocalypse (“Revelation of John”) and the book of Daniel.  It also uses elements from Patristic tradition, etc.

Let’s look at the upper segment:

In the center circle sits enthroned  Lord Sabaoth, God the Father represented as an old man.  The Holy Spirit as a dove is just to the left of his head.  Ranks of angels are in the circle around him.  To his left is the Heavenly Jerusalem and the Righteous seated at banquet tables within it.  To the right of the central circle two angels hold a scroll upon which are the sun and moon.  This represents the heavens being “rolled up like a scroll” at the end of the world.  Below that, Jesus, in a cloudy mandorla approaches God the Father before going to preside over the Last Judgment.  In the smaller circle at right, we see “war in Heaven,” with the good angels defeating and casting out the evil angels.

Let’s move down to the next segment:


In the central circle Jesus is enthroned as the Judge.  To the left of the circle stands Mary, and to the right John the Forerunner (the Baptist); they are interceding with Jesus, asking mercy for humanity.  Just below Mary kneels the “first man” Adam (according to the Genesis story) and kneeling below John the Forerunner is the “first woman” Eve.

Standing at left and right are angels, and seated below the angels are the Twelve Apostles, who take part in the judgment, holding opened books.

Now to the next segment:

At center two angels stand by the altar table, the “Throne” of judgment, on which are placed the spear, sponge, and cross of the Passion of Christ, with the book containing the record of the good and bad deeds of humans, and also on the table is the “garment of Christ”; just below, a great hand — the “Hand of God” — holds a scale suspended, weighing the good and bad deeds of humans.  This is an ancient notion that can be traced to ancient Egyptian art and belief, in which the “heart” of the dead was weighed against a feather, representing righteousness, “truth.”

Held in the curved fingers of the great Hand of God are souls of the righteous.

At left is a crowd of Eastern Orthodox, while at right, just beyond the Old Testament Prophet Moses, is a group of “Heterodox,” those with other beliefs.

Here is the central image:

It depicts a great serpent, representing Sin, which twists all the way from Hell up to the altar “Throne.”  All along it are rings that represent the tollhouses of the afterlife, places high in the air where the soul of the departed is examined by demons for various sins, each of which is represented by a different tollhouse circle.  If the soul has committed that sin but has not sufficiently repented and does not have the defense of angels and the prayers of the living, it is taken to Hades for punishment.

The notion of stages of examination of the soul after death also comes from ancient Egyptian belief, in which the soul was examined by 42 judges, each for one of 42 different misdeeds, before the weighing of the heart in the balance.  The early Gnostics had a belief that the soul, in order to reach the divine Pleroma (“Fullness”) after death, had to rise through the air and get past the seven hostile archons (“rulers”), which were derived from the seven planets (the moon and sun were numbered among the planets, though only five were known then).

Here is a detail from the first icon above, showing the weighing of the soul’s bag of good deeds against his bad, with little red devils doing their best to weigh down the scale in the favor of evil:

For comparison, here is an ancient Egyptian depiction of the weighing of the heart:

The figure at left is Anubis, a god of the afterlife.  At right is the god Thoth, scribe of the Underworld, ready to record the results.  The monster by the scale waits to eat the heart if the result is unfavorable.  The heart is in the scale at left (in a jar), and in the pan on the right is the feather of Truth.

But back to the Russian type:

In the circle at left, the Prophet Daniel is shown a vision of the Four Kingdoms, represented by the animals in the pinkish circle at upper right.  In the large circle at right, earth and sea give up their dead.  In the following image (from the first icon above) a lion coughs up people he has eaten as a man at right rises from his tomb

The rings on the serpent are inscribed with the names of sins.

In another detail from the first icon, fish vomit up the people they have eaten:

On to the next segment:

At left, Mary is seatied between two angels.  In the upper circle at right as already mentioned, are the animal symbols of the four kingdoms seen in the Old Testament vision of Daniel, and at right earth and water giving up their dead.

Here is the bottom segment:

At right, the Devil is seated on a monster in Hell, bearing the soul of Judas Iscariot on his lap.  Here is a detail of that from the first icon above:

Below him are subterranean chambers with condemned souls being tortured for various sins.  At center is a figure naked except for a loincloth, and bound to a pillar.  At left the righteous stand at the Gates of Paradise, beyond which are seen the Repentant Thief Rakh inside Paradise, and seated there are the Old Testament Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  You will recall them from the icon type of the “Forefathers in Paradise,” as seen in this detail from the first icon above.  Each holds a crowd of righteous souls against his bosom:

In the right side panel we see angels casting “dark angels” out of Heaven and into the fiery Hell below.





























In the left panel we see monks, given wings and flying up to heaven.
























We can finish this discussion of the iconography of the “Terrible Judgment” with a closer look at the odd little figure in the center of the bottom segment.  Naked except for a cloth about his waist, he is bound to a pillar.  Placed outside the punishments of Hell, he is also outside the joys of Paradise.  He is the so-called “Gracious Fornicator” ( Милостивый блудник/Milostivuiy Bludnik):

His story comes not from the Old or New Testament, nor even from the Apocrypha.  Instead, it is found in the old Russian Prologue (Greek Synaxarion), an account of Church Saints and festivals, under August 12th.

There it is said that in Constantinople, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Isaurian, there was a wealthy man who was very active in charitable donations to the the poor.  But it seems he had a great deal of trouble “keeping it in his pants,” as the saying goes.  He spent much of his life having repeated sex without benefit of marriage.

When this charitable man died, there was a lot of  speculative discussion; Herman, Patriarch of Constantinople, and other bishops conversed and discussed, trying to decide what the fate of this man in the afterlife would be, if he would be “saved” or not.  They could not agree on whether he would go to Paradise for his good deeds, or to Hell because of his fondness for sex.  Finally the matter was settled when a  hermit, after much prayer, supposedly had a vision of the fellow’s fate.  He said that he saw the man tied to a pillar between Paradise and the flames of Hell, and the man was bitterly weeping.  An angel appeared and told the bound man that because of his charitable deeds he was spared from Hell, but because of his repeated sex outside marriage, he was also excluded from Paradise.  The Patriarch used this as an object lesson to show that people should avoid extramarital sex.




Today’s icon type, the Derzhavnaya (“Reigning”) image, was painted at the end of the 18th-beginning of the 19th century. It is very westernized in appearance.

Its form, with the rounded top, shows that it was once in an iconostasis, the big icon screen that separates the congregation from the altar in Russian churches.

It is not difficult to see that it was painted on three boards joined together; the cracks separating them are quite obvious, and the image itself shows considerable signs of wear on the paint surface.  Unlike traditional icons, it seems to have been painted in oils.

As for the iconography, it depicts Mary seated on a throne, holding a scepter in her right hand and a large globe in her left; these are symbols of ruling authority.  Christ Immanuel is seated on her lap, blessing with his right hand and holding his  left palm facing upward above the globe.  There is no inscription other than the common abbreviation MP ΘΥ (Meter Theou = “Mother of God”) written in the style of the period.  In the clouds above Mary is an unusually large depiction of God the Father (“Lord Sabaoth”).

Though it was painted near the beginning of the 19th century, this icon did not “appear” until the year 1917.  You will recall that “appearance” (yavlenie) in the jargon of Eastern Orthodox Marian icons, means the time when an icon first manifests itself as supposedly miraculous.  It generally has nothing to do with when the icon was first painted.

A common motif in the appearance of Marian icons is the message received in a dream, and that is what we find in the origin story of the Derzhavnaya type.

The story tells us that a woman named Evdokia Adrianova had a dream on the 13th of February in the year 1917.  In it, she heard a voice saying:

“In the village of Kolomensk there is a big, black icon.  Take it, make it red, and let there be prayer.”

Two weeks later on February 26th, she had another dream.  In it she saw a white church, and in the church was a majestic woman whom Evdokia felt to be Mary.  So she traveled to Kolomensk, and there saw the Ascension Church, which she recognized as the white church in her dream.  She went to the home of the rector, Nikolai Likhachev, and told him her dream and asked what to do.

He took her to the church, and they began to search among its icons.  At first, in the sanctuary and on the iconostasis, nothing was found to match the dream image.  So they began searching up and down, and eventually, in the basement, stored with all kinds of junk, they came across an old and black icon.  They cleaned it up and an image of Mary seated on a throne and  holding signs of imperial authority, with her son on her lap, was revealed — and her robe was a bright red.  Krasnuiy in Russian means both “red” and “beautiful.”

The image, according to church records, had been brought to Kolomensk for storage in 1812, the year of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia.

Word of the supposedly miraculous event quickly spread, and soon pilgrims began coming to the Ascension Church to see the icon. Additional miracles began to be attributed to it.  The icon was taken out now and then to make “royal visits” to various sites in the area, including other churches and factories.  Because Mary wears a crown and holds the symbols of royal authority, the image came to be called Derzhavnaya — “Reigning.”

Now it happened, so the story goes, that the day of the “appearance” of the icon — of its finding in the Church of the Ascension — happened also to be the day (March 2nd or 15th, depending which calendar is used) on which Tsar Nicholas II abdicated.  This is taken by Russian monarchists and nationalists as a sign that when Nicholas laid down his imperial authority, it was taken up by Mary, as shown by the imperial symbols she holds.  Mary was now guiding and ruling “Orthodox Russia.”  Of course the new Soviet regime was not pleased by “monarchist” stories accompanying the icon; they put it away in a museum storage facility, and tried to prevent the adulation accorded it and its copies.  But things changed in Russia as decades passed, and on July 27, 1990, the icon was placed in the Kazan Church in Kolomensk.

All of this makes the Derzhavnaya icon type a subject of importance today to Russian nationalists and monarchists and to the extremists among them.





When I began this site, I did not know if anyone would read it. Now I am surprised at the numbers who do.

So far, I have tried to include information I would have wanted to know when I first began to research icons decades ago. Now is your chance to make suggestions about possible future topics here. What aspect of icons and their history would you like to see postings about? I make no guarantees, but I am certainly open to your ideas.

I am also, of course, interested in WHY people are reading this site. I already know that some of you are art restorers, some artists, some dealers in icons or collectors of icons, some are in educational institutions and some are interested in the history and interpretation of icons for various other reasons. So if you are a subscriber to the site or a regular reader, I would appreciate a note from you letting me know WHY you are here, with any other comments you may wish to make. Just click on the “Leave a Reply” link at the bottom of any posted article (including this one). And of course as usual, your comment will only be seen by me, unless you request otherwise.

Now, so that there will be at least some educational content in this posting, here is a late Russian icon. If you are a long-term reader here, you should be able to translate the inscriptions identifying the saints.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Here is the saint at left:


The inscription reads: Св МАРΘА — Sv[yataya] Marfa (“Holy Martha”); remember that the letter Θ, which is pronounced “th” in Greek, is pronounced “f” in Church Slavic and Russian, which have no “th” sound.

And here is the saint at right:


The inscription reads: Св МАРИЯ — Sv[ataya] Mariya (“Holy Mary”). Notice that in the icon inscription, the second to last letter is written as an I with two dots above it, and the last letter looks like a capital “A” with a vertical line down the center of the bottom; that is the old letter form for writing the “ya” sound. It is sometimes also written as an I connected by a horizontal line to an A.

If you are familiar with the Bible (which is a tremendous help in the study of icons), you will recognize these two women — Martha and Mary — as the subject of a well-known story:

Luke 10:38-42

38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he [Jesus] entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.

39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.

40 But Martha was bothered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Ask her therefore to help me.

41 And Jesus answered and said to her, Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things:

42 But one thing is needful: and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Martha and Mary are also found in John 11:1-44 and 12:1-8


Unless you are very interested in learning to read Church Slavic icon inscriptions (the kind of inscriptions found on most old Russian icons) you will probably want to overlook today’s posting.  You will likely be bored to tears.  And if you do find you have enough curiosity to read on, perhaps even all the way through, well, as psychologists say, recognizing your problem is the first step to overcoming it.  I am blameless.

Here is a Russian icon of the physician saint Panteleimon:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

I have already discussed Panteleimon in a previous posting.   So my reason for showing this particular example is  not the saint himself, but rather the long border inscription.  It is useful in learning how to approach an unfamiliar Church Slavic inscription.  This inscription is not easy for beginners, but that is the point;  its difficulty enables me to tell you how to approach such a puzzle.

First you will want to know that most full-border icon inscriptions begin at upper left, then are read to the right, down the right side, and across the bottom from left to right (unless the bottom inscription is upside-down), and finally the left side is read from bottom to top. There are variations on this scheme, but even then the inscription usually begins at upper left.

Knowing that, we can put the whole border inscription together as it would commonly be read:





In attempting to translate this, we face the common difficulties found in Church Slavic inscriptions.  First, there are the individual peculiarities of calligraphic style.  Second, as is usual, all the words in the inscription run together, with no space between them to tell us where one word ends and another begins.

The key to solving such little mysteries is this:

1.  First, start at the beginning and look over the whole inscription from that point

2.  Look for any familiar words anywhere in the inscription.

If we follow that advice, we will begin at the upper left hand corner:


I hope by now you have learned to read the Church Slavic alphabet.  If you have not, you will find yourself of little use in reading icons.  So we begin by transliterating the first part of the inscription.  I will put it into modern Cyrillic letters:


Now into the Roman alphabet:


The first letter of the first word, P (“R” in  English) is in red.  If we transliterate the first four letters, we get


That is a very useful word to know.  it means “spoke,” as in “he spoke.”  It should be part of your basic inscription vocabulary.

Next comes a word you already know, though you may not know that you know it at first, because it is abbreviated.  It is, transliterated:


That abbreviates GOSPOD’, meaning  “Lord” or “The Lord” (remember that Church Slavic has no separate word for “the”).

So now we have two words:


Church Slavic word order is not the same as English.  Here the verb RECHE (“spoke”) comes before the person doing the speaking, GOSPOD’.  So the meaning of RECHE GOSPOD’ is “The Lord Spoke.”

The word following GOSPOD’ is missing one letter, which I will add.  The word is


An uchenik is a disciple.  UCHENIKOM not only tells us that there is more than one disciple by its ending, but it also tells us that it is the object of the verb “spoke.”  It means
“to disciples.”

The next word is SVOIM:  that means “his.”  So in the word order of Church Slavic, we now have:


We would say in English, “The Lord spoke to his disciples.”

The next word is also an abbreviation:


In modern Cyrillic it is


The last letter in the original that looks like “I” followed by “a” is actually a single sound, “YA.”  So we can transliterate the abbreviated word as


But we must know what it abbreviates.  It is the word


It means “saying.”

So now we know what the first five words of the inscription are:



Now that may not seem like much, given the length of the border inscription, but it is of tremendous help in determining what the rest of the unfamiliar inscription says.  Because it begins with “The Lord spoke to his disciples, saying…” we know it must be something Jesus said.  And of course what Jesus said is found in the New Testament, so we know that the inscription as a whole is likely to be found somewhere in the New Testament.

This is where knowledge of the Bible comes in handy.  There are many places in the New Testament where Jesus speaks to his disciples, saying something.  But what is that something here?  To find out, we return to step two of the translation key, which is to look for any familiar words anywhere in the inscription.

You might, for example, recognize this word in the right border:

It is ВЛАСТЬ, transliterated as VLAST’.  It means “power.”  So we know that “The Lord” (meaning Jesus) spoke to his disciples, and what he said had something to do with “power.”

The next step is simply to look up everywhere Jesus said something to his disciples about power.  And if we look it up first in an English Bible, that will give us the book, chapter and verse.  We can then use that to go to the same book, chapter and verse in the Church Slavic New Testament (these are available from the United Bible Societies and elsewhere).

Going through those two steps, we find this first in English:

Matthew 28:18-20 (King James Version)

18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

So now we have a chapter and verse to look up in the Church Slavic version.  The beginning is not literally the same as in our five-word icon inscription beginning, but it has much the same meaning, Jesus speaking to his disciples.   Going to the Slavic Matthew (Matfei), we find:





Now we just compare that, word by word, with the icon border inscription.  The result is that we find this is in fact what the inscription is saying, though the icon version begins with “AND THE LORD SPOKE TO HIS DISCIPLES, SAYING…” instead of  “AND COMING NEAR, JESUS SPOKE TO THEM, SAYING….”  Nonetheless, what Jesus said to his disciples is there and the same in both in the icon inscription and in the Church Slavic New Testament account in Matthew 28-20.  If we are careful, we can even see that the icon inscription ends at the top of the left-hand border with the broken-off word


meaning “[I] commanded.”

So the mystery is solved.  The whole icon border inscription can now be recognized and translated, and it says:


This process may seem rather tedious, and it often is, but hey, who said that anything beyond the most common inscriptions would be easy?  No one asked you to become interested in icons, did they?

Perhaps you would like to take up Chinese vegetarian cooking instead.





In previous postings, we have seen some rather peaceful icons featuring lions, specifically those of Mamas and of Gerasim.  Today we look at a more violent image, that of the martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch, called ИГНАТИЙ БОГОНОСЕЦ — Ignatiy Bogonosets — in Russian iconography.  It means “Ignatius [the] God-bearer.”  His Greek title Ιγνάτιος ὁ Θεοφόρος — Ignatios ho Theophoros — has the same meaning (Theos = God, –phoros = bearer).  Though the inscription is rather difficult to see, the icon example shown below uses the Greek ΘΕΟΦΟΡΟC (Theophoros) title.  You are probably already familiar with the –phoros element from the name of the once popular saint Christopher, Khristophoros in Greek, meaning “Christ” (Khristos) -“bearer” (-phoros).

Who was Ignatius?  Well, supposedly he was the third bishop of Antioch, even a disciple of the Apostle John. One tradition makes him the little child used by Jesus as an example in Matthew 18:1-4:

At the same time came the disciples to Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  And Jesus called a little child to him, and set him in the midst of them,  And said, Truly I say to you, Unless your are converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Generally, however, Ignatius  is said to have lived at the end of the first century c.e. and beginning of the second, and to have been martyred by being sent to Rome, where he was thrown to the lions under the Roman Emperor Trajan.  During his unrealistically lengthy journey there, with lots of unlikely stopovers to visit Christians, he was said to have written a number of letters to Christian congregations, and in fact some 15 letters traditionally attributed to him still exist.

However, we have already learned from previous experience with Eastern Orthodox saints to be very careful in accepting hagiographic tales as history, and in fact there is considerable doubt that Ignatius ever really existed, at least as the person presented to us by Orthodox tradition.

(Pushkin Museum)

(Pushkin Museum)

Interestingly, the importance of this doubtful Ignatius in the history of the Church is significant, because in letters attributed to him is found support for changing the early system of governance of Church congregations.  Earlier, the titles “elder” (presbyter) and “bishop” had been used for the same office.  The person writing as Ignatius, however, made a strong and definite distinction between the two, elevating the bishop to a position of great authority over Christian communities and elders  (the so-called “monarchical bishop”), a step that led ultimately to the creation of the Papacy in the West and the Patriarchates in the East.  That gave the supposed writings of Ignatius immense propagandistic significance in church politics.

Though some still consider certain of the 15 letters attributed to Ignatius as authentic, many regard all of them as later forgeries.

Whatever one may think of the authenticity of Ignatius, the type of his martyrdom is easily recognized.  A common format, as shown here, depicts him standing in bishop’s robes, with one attacking lion head-up on the left side, and the other head-down at right.  This often gives an interesting feeling of circular motion to the type.  In the upper part of this example, the blessing “Hand of the Lord” is seen reaching out from Heaven.



The two probably most famous Russian monks are widely separated in time.  In a previous posting I discussed one of them, Seraphim of Sarov, who died in 1833.  Today we will look at the iconography of the second and earlier, Sergiy of Radonezh, who died 1392.   He became one of the most prominent of Russian “nationalistic” saints.  He was the founder of the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra, which grew into a very large monastic community with its own workshops and an important pilgrimage site.

Though in Russia his name is written as Sergiy, you will find it in English publications also as Sergei and Sergius, or in those with a French influence as Serge.

You have probably noticed that in the titles of monk saints, things usually follow this order, with four elements:

1.  The title Svyatuiy, “Holy.”
2.  The “rank,” title, Prepodobnuiy (loosely rendered in English as “Venerable.”
3.  The saint’s name (like Sergiy).
4.  A word identifying the saint by location, like Radonezhskiy, meaning “of Radonezh.”  This location name is one way to distinguish among several saints with the same name.

5.  Sometimes an additional title is added, such as chudotvorets, “wonder-worker.”

Let’s start with an icon from near the end of the 19th century.  Though originally cheaply and hastily painted, it nonetheless can teach us a few things.  It is an icon of Sergiy  с житем (s zhitem).  S means “with” and zhitem means “life,” so we can translate it as an icon “with the life,” that is, with scenes showing incidents from the life of the saint.  Sometimes such scenes are just painted in the background of the icon, but frequently they appear in little boxes around the edge of the main image, as in this icon.  Such a box containing an individual scene is called a клеймо (kleimo) in Russian (plural клейма/kleima).  So an icon with kleima in the border is an icon with square or rectangular cells containing additional scenes around the border of the central image.  Such scenes may vary from image to image in their number, content and order.

So here is the icon of Sergiy “with the life”:

Sergei is said to have been born in Rostov in the year 1314.  His parents were a pious couple named Kirill and Maria.  Their third son was a boy named Varfolomei (Bartholomew).  His older brothers quickly learned to read, but Varfolomei found it very difficult.  So he prayed for help in learning.

One day his father sent him out to search for missing horses.  On the way he saw a monk elder, a starets, deep in prayer under an oak tree.  Varfolomei waited patiently, and when the elder finished, he asked the boy what he wanted.  Varfolomei replied by asking the elder to pray  for him, that he might be able to learn to read and write.

Here is a non-icon painting by Mikhail Nesterov showing that encounter, which is a very well-known theme in Russian art:


The elder prayed for the boy, then reached into his bag and took out a piece of prosfor (prosphora) the bread used in the Church liturgy.  He told the boy to eat it as a sign of grace and to help him learn.  Varfolomei put it in his mouth, and it tasted sweet.  The monk then told him that he would become learned far beyond the level of his brothers, and the elder and the boy then walked together to Varfolomei’s home, where the starets ate and talked with the parents, predicting  a very learned and holy life for their son.  The parents went to the doorway with the monk as he was leaving, but suddenly he disappeared, leaving them thinking he might have been an angel.

The inscription on this kleimo says: “The youth Varfolomei, Venerable Sergiy, receives the piece of prosfor from the starets.”


After meeting the starets, Varfolomei began leading a rigorous life of prayer and fasting and pious practices, and wanted to become a monk; but his parents asked him not to do so until after their deaths.  He agreed.  In this period the family moved from Rostov to Radonezh, Then the elderly parents, now considered saints themselves, died, and Sergei spent forty days in prayer for them.  This number is significant, because in traditional Russian Orthodoxy it is believed that during these forty days the soul of the departed goes through various stages, one of which is passing through the so-called “toll-houses” where it is tested for various sins.  At the end of the forty days it reaches the place where it will spend the time until the Last Judgment.

This kleimo shows Sergiy, clothed in monk’s habit, praying before the “relics” of his parents, that is, at the tomb of his parents.

Notice the “rosary” he is holding.  It is the old lestovka or “ladder” rosary with triangular flaps at the bottom, a form which was kept by the Old Believers.

Varfolomei, after the death of his parents, went off into a deep forest with his widowed brother Stefan (Stephen) and began leading a very hard and ascetic life so rigorous that his brother could not take it and left.  But before he left, the two had built, along with their hut, a church that they dedicated to the Holy Trinity.  Varfolomei stayed on alone, and at the age of 23 he was tonsured as a monk, taking the name Sergiy from one of the pair of Roman martyrs (Sergius and Bacchus) celebrated on that day.

This kleimo shows Sergiy hard at work with his axe, constructing a monastic cell.

As is common in stories of ascetics, Sergiy was bothered by evil spirits that would visit his forest retreat, trying to frighten him into giving up his monastic life.  But he would pray the “Jesus Prayer,” (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner”) and his prayer would drive them away.  That is the scene in this kleimo:

Sergiy worked on and prayed for others to come and join with him.  One night while praying, he had a vision in which he saw a bright light and a great many birds flying around.  He heard a voice telling him that the number of people joining his community would be many like the birds.  His vision is depicted in this kleimo:

While Sergiy was still hoping for members of his community, a bear came to him.  Sergiy would leave bread out on a stump for him when he had it, and when there was only a little, he is said to have given what remained to the bear, going without himself.  This kleimo depicts Sergiy sharing his meal with the bear:

Sergiy made sure that his monastery offered help to the needy and to travelers and the ill.  It is said that once, when he was performing the liturgy, the monks saw an angel celebrating with him , and they saw a fire around the altar that entered the chalice.  That is the scene depicted in this kleimo:

Sergiy was considered a “wonderworker,” and among his miracles was resurrecting a dead boy through prayer, as shown here:

The monks at Sergiy’s monastery had to carry their water from a long distance away, until finally Sergiy went down into a ravine near the monastery and found there a little pool of rainwater.  He prayed over it, and a spring then burst out of the ground, providing the monastery with water nearby.  That is the scene shown here:

When he was dying, Sergiy received the eucharistic bread and wine:

It is said that long after his death,  in 1422 Sergiy appeared to a layman in a dream, telling him to go to the head of his monastery and ask why his relics (his body) were left in the wet ground.  During the construction of the new cathedral, his relics were said to have been uncovered and were found incorrupt, body, clothing, and all.  Then they were placed in the church.  This kleimo depicts the obretenie, the “finding” of Sergiy’s relics:

Even though it comes earlier chronologically, I have kept one scene for last, because it is life scene most often found painted as a separate icon.  It is the appearance of Mary to Sergiy.  The story is that one day he had just finished reciting the Marian prayer “It is Proper” when, resting a moment, he said to his disciple Mikhei (Micah) that something wonderful was about to happen.  Then a voice was heard, saying, “The blessed Virgin is coming.”  Mary, the apostle Peter and the evangelist John appeared.  Mary told Sergiy his prayers had been heard, and that his monastery would grow and flourish both during his life on this earth and after.  Here is that kleimo:

Now that we have seen the scene depicted in this simple and hasty manner, let’s look at the same event as painted with care in an icon that would have been considerably more expensive, though also from near the end of the 19th century:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The icon is heavily incised and gilded, with border ornamentation characteristic of the latter part of the 19th-beginning of the 20th century.  It is painted in the “Westernized” manner favored by the State Church of the time.  Notice the “pearls” and “jewels” painted around and in the halos.

From roughly the same period, here is another “Westernized” icon showing Sergiy full-length, again with the elaborate border and background ornamentation often found in icons of that time:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

With such icons we are near the end of the old period of icon painting that gradually faded away with the Russian Revolution and the oppressive Communist rule that followed.